20140630_180335 (1) (511x800)Though the mornings were a bit cloudy, every day spent in San Diego is a good day in my book! So I was especially happy to spend 4 days there listening to speakers speak about speaking! Very meta!

As soon as I heard about the Caveatt Institute I knew I needed to go early to attend. Listed as “an amazing one-day learning program, jam-packed with networking and learning designed specifically for aspiring speakers”, it was obviously right up my alley!

With a bright and early day kicking off at 8am (yikes!) I was grateful they had scheduled Neen James to get the program started. She came onto the stage like stick of sassy Australian dynamite and launched with a ton of helpful content about productivity and getting to the heart of what your clients want. Fabulous!

Next up was Lois Creamer, with a delightfully dry wit and more great content! She delivered a ton of concrete examples (I seriously love specifics) about communicating with clients and setting yourself up for success.

Messages come to you when you need them most, and my first session of the full conference was an excellent example of that. Scott McKain presented “The Distinction Between ‘Big League’ and ‘Small Potatoes’ Keynotes” which was not only filled with useful information for me as I work on my DiG Festival keynote, but provided the perfect inspiration to kick off my first National Speakers Association conference.

“Distinctive keynotes have the courage to take their audience on a steeper, more meaning full emotional roller coaster ride”

The concept of differentiation is a big one in all workplaces right now, but this was a particularly well timed point for me. I have a rather “unorthodox” background and hearing this first off set the tone perfectly.

“The Key is to Be Distinctive” – Scott McKain

Through-out the conference I heard over and over that a speakers greatest (and frequently first) challenge is finding what makes them stand out and learning how to capitalize on it. Here is one mountain I don’t have to climb! Knowing that at least one major obstacle isn’t an issue is really heartening.

Mentoring sessions, in the form of a “human library” was available (brain picking at its finest!) so that afternoon, I signed up to speak with Marjorie Brody, the Founder & Fearless Leader of Brody Professional Development. As soon as I sat down I realized that I hadn’t prepared any questions, totally a winning move! Um no. So I fumbled a bit for what I was looking for and we ended up coming around to my hair. Well, we came around to it when she said directly,

“So, what do you do with your hair?”

She said it a bit flatly in the same way a couple of friends in the corporate world have asked me, but with a strong edge of amusement. It was within the context of the conversation and came after I had flicked it out of my face, yet again.

I won’t go into the details of the conversation but we ended up spending the majority of time talking about my hair, which were actually some of the most useful minutes of the whole conference for me. That might seem strange (Marjorie had offered to move onto another topic quickly) but my hair has been a conundrum that I haven’t quite wrapped my head around yet so the conversation was valuable .

For years my hair has been a trademark of mine and so the idea of “putting it back” has always felt like being inauthentic. But Marjorie put it succinctly in a way that I’ve never heard before.

With one sentence she shifted my perspective.

“Do you want them listening to you or do you want them looking at your hair?”

That’s an easy question to answer and with it she proved why those kinds of spontaneous, one-on-one meets are such a crucial part of the conference experience. You simply never know what you’re going to learn. Though a bit more prep than I walked in with is never a bad idea!

One of the biggest stand outs of the weekend for me was how many amazing women were on the schedule to speak. There were so many fantastic role-models, including a variety of presentation styles. My last session was by Sally Hogshead titled “Fascinate: Earn More & Grow Your Business through Your Natural Personality Advantages”, based on her book. I found the system of defining personality types really interesting and practical right now as I’m working on my own transition and how to frame my offerings. 20140630_180412

The women I met who were attending were also really motivating. Starting at the Caveatt Institute and all the way through to the XY Meet & Greet, the women I spoke to about my background as well as my future plans were all supportive & encouraging. I even received fantastic feedback on the “Confident Women: Ditch the Bitch Stigma” program I’ve been working on.

Even short conversations, like the ones I had with Liz Fletcher Brown and Theresa J. French, contribute to my confidence in the direction I’m heading. The whole conference was such a meaningful experience and is an important starting point for this new phase of my career.

There were many more fantastic workshops and memorable moments, but if I included them all this would be a very, very long blog post!

Last but not least, a huge thank you goes out to Thom Singer whom I met at SXSW 2014 and is the one who told me about the NSA14 conference. It turned out to be quite a pivotal suggestion!

A few of my favorite tweets from the conference:

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